Topical

"Because I’m Saying So."

via Rappler

via Rappler

 

The CEO of Rappler, a news website critical of the government in the Philippines, has been arrested at its headquarters in Manila.

Maria Ressa said the accusation of "cyber-libel" is an attempt by Rodrigo Duterte's government to silence the publication.

It is the latest in a string of different allegations against her.

The president, who calls the site "fake news", has previously denied charges against her are politically motivated.

Rappler journalists live-streamed the arrest on Facebook and Twitter.

 

This is the top story on the site at my time of writing this. This is a big deal.

A lot of chatter’s going to circulate the next few days regarding this, so I’ll just focus on this one part that caught my attention. Linked in the article is a Twitter thread by Rappler employee Aika Rey documenting the whole thing as it was happening, which includes a brief exchange with what seems to be one of the officers that came to arrest Ressa.

A rough transcript of parts of the exchange:

 

Officer: Come on, be cooperative. Your boss is already talking with us, no need for that… I'm sure you do understand what I'm telling you, right?

Rey: I’m not the only one doing it.

O: Yeah, but I’m talking to you right now. I’ll attend to them later, one by one.

R: Um… can you explain to me first?

O: Because I’m saying so.

R: And what will happen?

O: It’s up to you. It’s a simple request.

R: Can you maybe explain to me first—

O: No. No explanation for now.

R: Why not?

 

It’s like a parent trying to reason with their 4-year-old child.

Frankly, I can’t blame the officer for not knowing what to say. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment affair – this was likely a planned operation. Someone had to have briefed this officer on what to do and what to say, and before that someone probably had to brief that guy, too. However long the chain of command involved here, no one thought to prepare something smart to say in the event of this being documented. At the headquarters of a prominent news publication.

You don’t need me to tell you this. The Philippines is a kakistocracy, and we need to take it back.

Wikitribune: Combating Fake News

From Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, comes Wikitribune. It’s a new platform to help create and deliver reliable journalism by harnessing the power of community created with Wikipedia.

Sounds like what a news publication should be in 2017 and beyond. More power to making fake news and clickbait a thing of the past.

The Case Against Wall Street's Fearless Girl

Greg Fallis ponders over the discussion and controversy around Fearless Girl, the statue that was placed in front of Wall Street’s Charging Bull, in a blog post that made the rounds on social media:

 
Recently most of the Fearless Girl discussions have focused on the complaints by Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor who created Charging Bull. He wants Fearless Girl removed, and that boy is taking a metric ton of shit for saying that. Here’s what I said that got me spanked:

The guy has a point.
 

It’s a concisely written piece that wastes no time getting into the arguments, and goes through the various factors at play, the main one being how each piece came about.

On Charging Bull:

 
Back in 1987 there was a global stock market crash. Doesn’t matter why (at least not for this discussion), but stock markets everywhere — everywhere — tanked. Arturo Di Modica, a Sicilian immigrant who became a naturalized citizen of the U.S., responded by creating Charging Bull… The thing weighs more than 7000 pounds, and cost Di Modica some US$350,000 of his own money. He said he wanted the bull to represent “the strength and power of the American people”. He had it trucked into the Financial District and set it up, completely without permission. It’s maybe the only significant work of guerrilla capitalist art in existence.
 

And on Fearless Girl:

 
Unlike Di Modica’s work, Fearless Girl was commissioned. Commissioned not by an individual, but by an investment fund called State Street Global Advisors, which has assets in excess of US$2.4 trillion. That’s serious money. It was commissioned as part of an advertising campaign developed by McCann, a global advertising corporation. And it was commissioned to be presented on the first anniversary of State Street Global’s “Gender Diversity Index” fund, which has the following NASDAQ ticker symbol: SHE. And finally, along with Fearless Girl is a bronze plaque that reads:

Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.

Note it’s not She makes a difference, it’s SHE makes a difference. It’s not referring to the girl; it’s referring to the NASDAQ symbol. It’s not a work of guerrilla art; it’s an extremely clever advertising scheme.
 

Of course, the cleverness lies in its appearance of being guerrilla art. Some, including myself to an extent, would call it an act of deception.

However, the question of whether or not the piece should be taken away remains unanswered at the end of Farris’ piece. It seems to me a lose-lose situation, since the piece represents different things for different groups of people.

In my mind, Farris’ piece instead draws attention to a more fundamental issue – the value systems in today’s society. Farris points out that Fearless Girl draws its significance from Charging Bull, which in turn draws its significance from sensation and controversy.

From halfway around the world, reading about Fearless Girl when it was first placed in front of Charging Bull was a feel-good story that felt momentous, like something significant had been accomplished. But at the end of the day, Fearless Girl is just a symbol – a powerful one that raised discussion, but it shouldn’t just end at discussion. There needs to be action.

Discussion only creates so much progress towards solving the issues the statue draws attention to, gender equality in particular. Doing that deals with corporate culture, and culture in general. That takes getting everyone to not just be informed or talk, but to make the right choices, and to do so consistently. And that takes time.

 

How Trump Tweets

Another great video on US President-elect Donald Trump’s use of speech by Evan Puschak, aka The Nerdwriter:

This really highlights just how swayed Trump is by his own emotions. The fact that he uses Twitter as his primary means of communication with the general public is interesting to me, especially for someone supposedly representing totally archaic ideologies in the GOP.

As Puschak mentions, self-validation – him being self-congratulatory and himself being his core audience – seems to be the main reason he tweets. It’s also the best tool at his disposal to build a strong perception of himself, even if it isn’t completely true.

A lot of criticism has been thrown at Trump for being ignorant of the facts. This, among many other things, evidences that he’s totally aware of the facts but chooses to blatantly ignore them. His perceived ignorance has proved mostly inconsequential to him thus far – it didn’t stop him from winning the most electoral votes last November – and that’ll only entrench him further in his own fantasy world that’s increasingly becoming ours.

Trump tweeting his almost totally unfiltered mind, and what he perceives himself to be, shows that he's taking full advantage of the liberties he’s afforded being, essentially, fact-proof. Now taking into account his personal ideologies (or lack thereof) and the position he was recently elected into, he’s probably the most dangerous man in the world to be made fact-proof.

Why Japanese Kids Can Walk to School Alone

 
It’s a common sight on Japanese mass transit: Children troop through train cars, singly or in small groups, looking for seats.

They wear knee socks, polished patent-leather shoes, and plaid jumpers, with wide-brimmed hats fastened under the chin and train passes pinned to their backpacks. The kids are as young as 6 or 7, on their way to and from school, and there is nary a guardian in sight.
 

I remember being able to bike to school in the morning when I was in Japan, and I’d always use that as one of my examples as to why I regard Japan as an ideal society.

 
...That’s not to say the Tokyo subway is risk-free. The persistent problem of women and girls being groped, for example, led to the introduction of women-only cars on select lines starting in 2000. Still, many city children continue to take the train to school and run errands in their neighborhood without close supervision.
 

On a related note, it’s rather peculiar that gender equality is where they’re trailing behind the rest of the world. I guess it might have to do with the aging population there making it difficult for the rest of society to let go of the traditional concept of gender roles. 

On the other hand, the Philippines ranks pretty far ahead of not just Japan but the rest of the world in terms of gender equality. So we got that going for us. 

Holding the Olympics in Multiple Cities at Once

A great proposition by Megan Greenwell from WIRED:

 
Send beach volleyball to Rio permanently, where there are actual beaches. Hold the fencing competition in Italy, where many of its gold medalists are born. Move swimming to Australia, where it’s a nationwide obsession. Host soccer in South Africa, where the 2010 World Cup was a moment of national pride. Let each country bear the cost of one set of events at a time instead of dozens.
 

Something like this sounds like such a brilliant idea because of just how bad an idea holding the Olympics in one city is to begin with:

 
“The math just doesn’t make sense,” says Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College whose book Circus Maximus argued that even bidding on the Olympics makes cities a victim of a scandal-plagued International Olympics Committee. “They cost between $10 billion and $20 billion and generate in the range of $4 billion to $5 billion,” he says.
 

I’m surprised the Olympics are even still a thing considering how much in losses it’s caused to its host cities.

Here’s a short but interesting comment made at the end:

 
Most of humanity doesn’t live in a nation wealthy enough to take a $10 billion loss on a two-week competition.
 

Meanwhile there are multi-billion dollar tech companies that could easily handle that loss. Bizarre to think about.

Source: WIRED

 

Further reading: A look at the Olympic Village in Athens after the Olympics in 2004.

Panama Papers Scandal in a Nutshell

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) succinctly explains the devastating effect of the Panama Papers scandal:

Offshoring money always seemed disingenuous to me (with edge cases, of course), and this scandal more than confirms it.

Makes me wonder how it will affect this year’s US presidential elections. As more news unfolds (there’s 11.5 million documents to sort through), I could see it highly favouring Bernie Sanders’ arguments.

 

Further reading/watching:

Senators Close to Finishing Encryption Penalties Legislation

This has been weighing on my conscience for hours now.

Dustin Volz and Mark Hosenball for Reuters:

 

"Technology companies could face civil penalties for refusing to comply with court orders to help investigators access encrypted data under draft legislation nearing completion in the U.S. Senate, sources familiar with continuing discussions told Reuters on Wednesday.

The long-awaited legislation from Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, may be introduced as soon as next week, one of the sources said.

It would expose companies like Apple Inc, which is fighting a magistrate judge's order to unlock an iPhone connected to the mass-shooting in San Bernardino, California, to contempt of court proceedings and related penalties, the source said."

 

It’s so hard to see how this benefits anyone but the government. They’re looking to financially benefit from tech companies simply upholding peoples’ right to privacy - not just for Americans but many, many others around the world who buy iOS and Android smartphones. We’ve seen already how government is trying to set precedent that makes it easier for them to leisurely spy on anyone they want - this makes it extra clear that encryption is the enemy, making privacy the enemy.

They tried pulling at heartstrings, now it seems they’re playing hardball, showing their true intentions in the process. It honestly makes me sick.

(Via Reuters, Daring Fireball)

Bill Gates Investigates Spending on Energy Research

I kind of roasted Gates a while back about his position in the Apple vs. FBI case, but this is the stuff he's great at and should stick to. You should check out his largely philanthropy-focused blog, gatesnotes.

This reminds me of the frog analogy Al Gore used in An Inconvenient Truth. Twelve years later we’re still that frog.